Tuesday, February 23, 2010

WWE Raw Report

Date: 02/22/10 from Indianapolis, IN.

The Big News: Three of the top four WrestleMania matches were officially announced on Raw.

Show Analysis:

Raw began with the return of new world champion Chris Jericho following his extended departure from Raw. He said basically nothing but just repeatedly gloated about winning the Elimination Chamber match, which was very amusing. Eventually Edge speared him from behind and announced he would take on Jericho for the title at WrestleMania. This was a good angle and it led immediately into another good angle.

John Cena came out next. He said that Vince McMahon screwed him by forcing him to wrestle again in a singles match after the Elimination Chamber. I don’t see how that’s any more unfair than Sheamus being forced to defend his singles title in a six person match in a Chamber and come in as the first man to boot. In fact, I’d argue Sheamus was screwed significantly worse than Cena.

Cena said he wanted his rematch on Raw, which brought out Vince McMahon to tell him he wouldn’t be getting it. It’s not a big deal, but they should table this routine for a little bit. It’s a good concept in theory because you tease a match and then pull it back for later, but they’ve done it so many times it almost feels like the face is disingenuous in temporarily teasing the fans with a match everyone knows won’t be delivered.

Vince McMahon said that he made a deal with Batista where Batista would attack Bret Hart and Batista would then get a title shot. Vince said Batista won’t defend the title until WrestleMania, and that both Sheamus and Cena are in line for title rematches. Thus, he announced Cena vs. Batista for later on Raw. If Cena won he would get the shot and if Batista won Sheamus would get the shot. Cena looked scurred of the prospect of wrestling Batista.

Maryse beat Gail Kim in the long awaited finals of the women’s title tournament. It’s only the women’s title, but they really shouldn’t have advertised a PPV title match only to yank it during the show and provide it on free TV the next day instead. On the plus side, they gave them a little more time than the average women’s match, which you ought to for a title tournament final. The match itself was okay by WWE women’s match standards.

Gail hit a clothesline and punches early but Maryse grabbed the ropes when Gail went for eat defeat. Maryse went for her implant DDT but Gail reversed into a cradle for two. Gail went for a springboard crossbody but missed. Gail went for a victory roll but Maryse threw her off into the ropes and hit the implant DDT for the pin.

There was a weird moment during the match when Gail was bleeding from her mouth and Lawler brought attention to her mouth but didn’t say she was bleeding. So WWE may actually have a bizarre policy where they won’t even acknowledge someone is bleeding even if it is an accident. I can’t recall if they explicitly mentioned bleeding when it happened on Sunday or the other week on ECW.

Randy Orton and Cody Rhodes met backstage. Rhodes said that he knew DiBiase would betray Orton but that he was still on Orton’s side. Orton said that if anyone was at fault it was himself for teaching Rhodes and DiBiase too well. Orton said he hasn’t been the leader he should be and said that he asked for a six man tag to show Legacy is still on the same page.

Orton left and DiBiase came in (pretty much immediately to the point of implausibility) to ask how the conversation went. Rhodes said almost too well. DiBiase then asked Rhodes if they were sticking to the plan. Rhodes said yes, so the audience was basically clued in that Rhodes and DiBiase were planning to stab Orton in the back.

Evan Bourne, Kofi Kingston and Yoshi Tatsu beat Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase. They announced Tatsu signed with Raw as a free agent. I’m still wondering where Abraham Washington ends up. Tatsu had some success with kicks early but Legacy took over on Bourne. Rhodes hit the Alabama slam and DiBiase used a head over heels clothesline.

Bourne eventually got the tag to Kingston. Kingston hit a springboard clothesline on DiBiase but Orton cut him off when he went for the boom drop. Orton began working over Kingston as DiBiase and Rhodes whispered to each other. Rhodes tagged in but Orton then hit Rhodes with a DDT. DiBiase got in Orton’s face outside the ring and Orton gave him an RKO on the floor. In the ring Kingston tagged Tatsu. Tatsu hit a kick on Rhodes and tagged in Bourne for the shooting star and the pin.

I assume this is the official breakup for Orton and Rhodes/DiBiase. I have mixed feelings on it. It’s good that they were conscious about not making Orton look like a fool. It’s been obvious that Rhodes and DiBiase can’t be trusted and if Orton got suckered by them there is the risk that it would make him look like a chump. With that said, Rhodes and DiBiase need all the help they can get in this feud and opening the breakup with Orton outsmarting and laying out both of them was the sort of young talent burial at a critical juncture that has led to such a stale main event picture.

Shawn Michaels came out for a promo. He said that his explanation for what he did at the Elimination Chamber isn’t complicated. He did what he had to. Michaels said he knew that wouldn’t be popular but that he can live with that. He added that he knows his action spur a reaction from Undertaker. In fact, he was counting on it.

Undertaker joined Michaels. He had weird yellow marks on his face, maybe from the accident yesterday, and looked positively ancient. He said that Michaels had his attention. Michaels told Undertaker that he wrestled a nearly perfect match last year, but he can’t live with that. Michaels said Undertaker ignored him so he had to get Taker’s attention.

In the middle of this serious and crucial promo for one of the biggest matches of the year, the crowd decided to start chanting “what” at Michaels. “What” seriously may be the most irritating fan development in wrestling history. Shut the fuck up, you obnoxious, narcissistic, ADD-suffering dimwits.

Michaels told the Undertaker to wrestle him at WrestleMania and get his revenge. Undertaker responded that he would on one condition, that Michaels put up his career. Michaels said that if he can’t beat Undertaker he has no career. This was an excellent angle with Michaels as usual doing a great job.

As for the career vs. title stipulation, I have mixed feelings. I think it’s a nice hook to build interest in the match. But ultimately WWE is boxing itself into a corner. Either Undertaker’s streak ends for no good reason or more likely they do yet another stipulation match knowing full well that they’re going to renege on the stipulation. It’s even worse here because people are going to remember and care more when they go back on their word. I don’t see why they couldn’t achieve the exact same goal by having Michaels simply imply he’ll leave forever if he loses.

Christian beat Carlito in the first money in the bank qualifier. Now that they are doing money in the bank again, Miz is such an obvious pick to win this year. He fits the gimmick perfectly in just about every way. They also introduced a couple of the NXT rookies here. Heath Slater cut an obnoxious promo and Michael Tarver cut a very good little one.

They announced Christian has signed with Raw. I’m surprised they didn’t do a storyline bidding war between Raw and Smackdown for one or two of the top ECW guys to make their debuts on a new show seem important. That’s the whole reason I like “free agency” better than “drafts.” You can make it feel like the wrestlers have agency and goals they’re moving towards. Instead, this just felt like another draft with the guys randomly distributed by the promotion. It’s not a big deal though, and moving over the ECW guys should bolster the depth on Raw and Smackdown.

Christian missed a crossbody off the top early in the match. Carlito hit a knee lift but Christian countered with an inverted DDT. Christian climbed the ropes but Carlito caught him and hit the roll of the dice for two. Christian went for the kill switch. Carlito reversed into a springboard elbow attempt but that was countered into another kill switch attempt. Carlito reversed again but Christian sent him into the post and finally hit the kill switch for the pin. This was a very fun little match.

Jewel and bull rider Ty Murray did two segments on the show. Earlier Jewel and Jillian Hall got into a singing confrontation and Jewel slapped Jillian. Here, they did a dreadful segment which involved riding a mechanical bull. The WWE women came out and rode it. It wasn’t much of a competition because it went slow and nobody was close to being thrown off.

Miz and Big Show came out to point out what a waste of time this was which led to Murray challenging Show to ride the bull. He of course failed and they played it for comedy but it was one of those segments where nobody is laughing except the guffawing announcers. Three hours later Murray and Jewel made a match with Miz and Show against MVP and Mark Henry.

Miz Show beat Mark Henry and MVP. They showed Bryan Danielson watching backstage, and again the commentary focused on Danielson. They talked about how the internet is angry that Miz is Danielson’s coach given how long Danielson has been wrestling for and how Miz claims Danielson has no personality. It’s at least to me a very intriguing angle and I’m quite curious how the whole thing will turn out. Hopefully they don’t bury Danielson to spite the internet.

Show hit a spear on MVP and followed with chops and a leg drop. Henry got the tag in. He used head butts on Show and a corner avalanche. Miz came off the ropes but was caught with the world’s strongest slam. As Henry turned around Show nailed him with the knockout punch for the pin.

They announced the next entrant into the WWE Hall of Fame is Wendi Richter. It’s a joke pick, but whatever, it’s only the WWE Hall of Fame. She’s probably marginally more deserving than Koko B. Ware given her six month peak was fairly notable. They also announced Cheech and Chong as guest hosts next week as well as Orton vs. DiBiase.

They replayed the Bret Hart angle from last week. Vince said that he was considering facing Bret at Mania, but that now he just wanted to say he had nothing to do with Bret’s accident. Vince invited Bret back next week on Raw to say farewell. After a commercial break they already announced that Bret had accepted. This setup seems to suggest they are going to do the story that Bret faked the car accident. I guess we’ll see how it comes across.

John Cena beat Batista via DQ. Batista kept ducking out between the ropes and then he kicked Cena low for the DQ. He then beat the hell out of Cena. He kicked Cena in the head, threw him into the post, smashed him into the barricade and rammed him into the post on the outside. He then gave him four very hard and spaced out chair shots to the back. This was a great demonstration that a chair shot to the back can be just as effective and dramatic as a shot to the head. I’m very glad that WWE changed their policy on that. This was a very strong angle to close a strong show. I’m really digging heel Batista.

Final Thoughts:

Last week’s bad Raw proved to be a blip rather than a trend. This week’s Raw was an excellent show full of interesting and fun angles from top to bottom. I’m greatly enjoying the WrestleMania build this year and now that they have the major angles announced we’re heading into the home stretch.

Monday, February 15, 2010

WWE Raw Report

Date: 02/15/10 from Des Moines, IA.

The Big News: Well, so much for the streak of excellent Raws. Hell, so much for the streak of non-dreadful Raws, too.

Show Analysis:

Sheamus beat Randy Orton via DQ. There were RKO chants early. Sheamus hit a power slam but missed the big boot. Orton went for the RKO but Sheamus escaped. Orton gained control with the Garvin stomp but was distracted when Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes came to ringside. Sheamus took over with punches, kicks and knees. Orton responded with punches, kicks and stomps. Orton went for the RKO and Sheamus kind of escaped.

On the outside, DiBiase tried to attack Sheamus behind the referee’s back. Sheamus fought him off immediately so Rhodes attacked Sheamus from behind. The referee saw that and disqualified Orton. Afterwards, Orton gave Rhodes the RKO. Sheamus then dove in with a big boot on DiBiase and Orton gave Sheamus the RKO. This match was quite boring with a redundant crap finish.

Bret Hart came to the ring. He said it was no shock that Vince McMahon wasn’t there, because Bret would be waiting for him. Bret said the words were echoing in his head that he deserved to be screwed. Bret said he thought Vince deserves to have the crap beaten out of him. Bret added that he would have loved to take out Vince at WrestleMania but it wasn’t meant to be. He thanked the wrestlers, fans, and John Cena. He said goodbye and left. He said goodbye to the wrestlers backstage, shook hands with Cena, and went to leave. I didn’t understand Bret’s motivation here at all, but that’s a minor quibble compared to what would come.

Next up was the big angle. Off camera a woman backed her car into Bret’s limousine as Bret was getting in. When they panned to Bret, his leg was hanging out of the car. They showed another camera angle later that made it seem Bret’s leg should have been severed or at the very least crushed, but there wasn’t even any blood. Bret was put on a stretcher and left in an ambulance. They played this up as a huge deal throughout the rest of the show. It looked completely fake.

I won’t go so far as to say this was a complete disaster or that they ruined the Bret/Vince angle in one week, but this was such an idiotic, ill-conceived directional turn. Has there ever been a vehicular assault angle in pro wrestling that has worked? It always looks like bullshit. Nobody ever buys it. It just makes the whole angle look fake. And of all the angles to not interject this idiocy into, it was Bret and Vince because the whole reason the angle was working was the realism of it all. People buy that Bret is angry at Vince for Montreal and the years of tumult that followed. Nobody buys that Bret is angry at Vince because Vince paid some woman to try to cripple him with an automobile on Raw.

This is exactly the sort of scenario we all feared WWE would do with Bret and Vince: substitute the real life issue between the two for some contrived, WWE scripted bullshit. After weeks of quality build I had completely let down my guard and assumed WWE was going to follow through this angle well, and then they pull this shit.

Mark Henry and MVP beat Miz and Big Show. MVP hit a yakuza kick on Miz and Henry hit the world’s strongest slam but Show broke up the pin. Big Show tagged in and hit a DDT but missed a Vader bomb. MVP then got the tag. He hit a face buster and yakuza kick on Show but ran into a kick from Show. Miz tagged in and covered, but MVP reversed into a pinfall of his own for the win. This match felt really rushed, as they had to make time for the 45 minute segment that would follow.

Next up was the Jerry Springer Show on Raw. Because, you know, WWE doesn’t want to be viewed as low brow, white trash entertainment. The announcers put Springer over huge and billed him as a television legend, which is sort of like Mel Gibson seeking to salvage his reputation by doing a buddy comedy with Michael Richards. The theme of the show was WWE’s most intimate relationships revealed.

Springer brought out Kelly Kelly, whose acting throughout this segment was Tiffany level atrocious. She said she was pregnant but wasn’t sure of the father because she has been in a lot of relationships. Santino came out and said he was the father. Kelly said that when Santino was sleeping she needed someone to finish the job. Michael Cole then got up and said, “That was our little secret, you loose lipped hussy!” Jerry Lawler then said Kelly was talking about him. Springer of course responded that Kelly was too old for Lawler.

The Bella Twins were out next. Nikki said that Brie was a man and they got into a fight as Santino tried to get people to chant “Jerry.” Springer wanted to know who was in the room with Kelly. Chris Masters came out, which brought out an angry Eve Torres. She got into a fight with Kelly over Kelly taking her man. The wrestlers again tried to get people to chant “Jerry.”

Masters said Torres wasn’t getting the job done. So Torres said she was also cheating with Great Khali. Khali came out and made out with Torres. Springer then said he had the results of the paternity test, and of course it was Hornswoggle. Springer left. Lawler then told Springer this was all a charade. No, really? Ranjin Singh said the Great Khali felt like the audience that this was a waste of time. No, really? Mae Young then came out and made out with Springer as the wrestlers yet again tried to get the crowd to chant “Jerry.” There were more wrestlers chanting “Jerry” than people in the crowd doing so.

This seriously may have been the low point in the history of Raw. Just the most moronic, interminable, negative stereotype-affirming nonsense. “Entertainment” by idiots and for idiots. And no, I don’t consider “it’s supposed to be awful” to be a particularly compelling defense for awful television programming.

Ted DiBiase beat Kofi Kingston in a brief match. Since DiBiase was going over, Kingston got the whole match. He hit a dropkick, clothesline off the top and boom drop. He set up for trouble in paradise but ran into the corner and DiBiase hit Dream Street for the pin.

They announced Antonio Inoki for the WWE Hall of Fame. This was kind of surreal in that they were acknowledging all this history that they have basically pretended never happened for decades. They talked about the formation of New Japan, the match with Muhammad Ali and the shows in North Korea. Props to WWE for bringing this history to the fans’ attention. They also announced Jewel and bull rider Ty Murray as the guest hosts next week. NASCAR, Jerry Springer, bull riding, it just gets better and better.

John Cena was in the ring and had an argument with Batista on the video screen. Cena was sarcastic and smarmy discussing how Batista attacked him from behind. Batista laughed and said Cena keeps running his mouth when Batista isn’t there. Batista said he will be on Raw next week and Cena can run his mouth then. He finally wished Cena luck on Sunday. Maybe it’s just me, but I find Batista’s character so much more likeable than Cena’s.

HHH beat John Cena via DQ. Cena hit a fisherman buster and threw HHH over the top, but accidentally dove into the barricade. HHH got heat during a commercial break but Cena quickly came back with shoulder blocks and the five knuckle. He went for the FU but HHH got out and hit a clothesline. HHH went for a superplex but Cena blocked and hit a top rope rocker dropper. Cena went for the STF but HHH reversed into a half crab. HHH hit a high knee, face buster and spine buster. He went for the pedigree but Sheamus ran in with a big boot for the DQ. He gave Cena the big boot too and hit a razor’s edge on HHH.

I just don’t buy that in 2010 crap finishes help build PPV matches. They’ve been done way too frequently for way too long and they just make matches feel pointless. I’d much rather they book TV matches where guys go over and then match up the guys who go over at the PPV to settle who the best is. Instead, they have a bunch of matches with crap finishes and then the same guys wrestle on the PPV. The hook for watching the PPV seems to be that this time we may actually give you a real finish.

WWE is essentially like a really stupid con man running a shell game. He offers you a free try, only he rigs it so you lose. Then he tries to get you to play again, only this time for $45, and says this time he’s going to play fair. This is not a very profitable con job. There are better strategies to be had, both in terms of engendering goodwill with your audience and in profiting more on PPV.

Final Thoughts:

This was so much worse than other recent editions of Raw. It had bad matches, bad finishes, bad angles and a dreadful Jerry Springer skit. It wasn’t just a letdown, but rather a gigantic step in the wrong direction.

If you want to hear a much more positive take on WWE’s WrestleMania direction, you can check out a podcast I did with Alex Reimer here at www.thesportsstuff.com. It was recorded prior to this edition of Raw and is as a result much more upbeat. Also, I forgot to mention this last week, but I was on the Fight Show podcast with Mauro Ranallo talking wrestling and MMA on February 3, so you can check that out too through iTunes via hardcoresportsradio.com/podcast.

Monday, February 08, 2010

WWE Raw Report

Date: 02/08/10 from Lafayette, LA.

The Big News: Raw made it two excellent shows in a row. They’re not quite on a Washington Capitals level roll, but they’re doing well for themselves.

Show Analysis:

The show started with a fantastic package on the Bret Hart-Vince McMahon angle from last week. They then showed a NASCAR vehicle spinning in circles in the parking lot. The car came out into the arena and we were supposed to believe it was Carl Edwards, but instead it was Hornswoggle who came out of the car. Edwards then came to the ring separately.

Edwards mentioned the Saints’ Super Bowl win for a cheap pop. The crowd was very happy. He then plugged that he will be driving 500 miles in a circle next weekend, so be sure to mark down that one on your calendar. He said that John Cena is his friend, which brought out Sheamus. Sheamus demanded the last entry slot in the Elimination Chamber. Well, he is the champion. It’s unfair enough he’s thrown into a six way title defense. The last slot is the least thing they could do.

Christian then came out. He got a very nice pop. The announcers said it has been a long time since we’ve seen Christian on Raw. Does 8 weeks really qualify? Christian said that NASCAR is blowing up in Canada and that it almost makes Canadians feel okay about losing out on a WNBA franchise. Woah, hold up. Now that’s just uncalled for. The WNBA is a legitimate sport with real athletes and deserves respect. Contrary to what Ben Miller or other chauvinists may say.

They brought up that ECW would be folding and that WWE NXT would be taking its place. Sheamus thought this would mean Christian’s unemployment, so he evidently isn’t very bright. Now if he’d said that about Trent Barreta and Caylen Croft, he might be onto something. Christian said instead that the ECW guys would be free agents. Oh my god. The Instant Classic’s coming back to TNA. Hogan’s done it again! Christian challenged Sheamus to a match and Edwards made it immediately.

Sheamus beat Christian. Sheamus hit a fall away slam and clotheslined Christian to the floor. Christian came back with a springboard crossbody to the floor, missile dropkick, neck breaker and tornado DDT. Sheamus turned the tide with a big boot and abruptly hit the razor’s edge for the pin.

This was WWE making perfectly clear where ECW stands in its hierarchy. And I’m not complaining at all. Really, with the ECW title disappearing shortly and the success of the undisputed tag team titles, I say WWE should just go ahead and create one unified heavyweight champion. That should be built up so it means something, but why not shoot for a SummerSlam unification?

Backstage, Shawn Michaels suggested to Triple H that they could be a part of WrestleMania together. HHH responded that he is planning to take the singles title in the Chamber. Elsewhere, Cody Rhodes told Ted DiBiase that he thought he could have beaten Mark Henry to qualify for the Chamber. DiBiase told him to stop whining. Rhodes then asked whether DiBiase would have beaten John Cena. DiBiase said he is better than Rhodes and Cena. Randy Orton came in. He announced DiBiase vs. Cena and Rhodes vs. Orton.

Big Show and Miz beat DX and the Straight Edge Society to win the unified tag titles. Prior to the match, CM Punk said that when people celebrate Mardi Gras or Super Bowl victories they turn to drugs and alcohol because they are weak and don’t know any better. Punk said he would show why straight edge means he’s better than us. You know, upon further reflection, I’m not sure he means me. So until he specifies, I’m going to assume he means he’s showing why straight edge means he’s better than you. No offense.

Punk then did a mini-angle with Jared the Subway Guy. Hey, at least he wasn’t guest host. Punk tried to recruit him to be the spokesperson for straight edge. Jared said no so the Straight Edge society was getting ready to submarine him when DX made the save and the tag match began.

Three men were in at the same time, so the heels teamed up to beat down HHH. HHH got the tag to Michaels. Michaels went for his nip up spot but then quickly got up after remembering what happened last week. That was a nice little touch. Michaels hit an elbow off the top and sweet chin music on Punk to eliminate the Straight Edge Society.

Big Show immediately went to town on Michaels for a while. Michaels hit sweet chin music on Show and tagged HHH. HHH hit a high knee, face buster and spine buster on Miz. Michaels then tagged himself in. HHH was confused and as he spoke with Michaels about this Miz threw Michaels into HHH and rolled up Michaels for the pin. This was a good match.

Backstage, Big Show and Miz celebrated their title win. Show said that with Chris Jericho he never beat DX and with Miz he did it the first time. Show said that Miz treats him as an equal and a friend. Show was so proud in saying this like he had emotional scars from his treatment by Jericho and it came across absolutely hilarious. Miz said that together they will run WWE. Miz referred to them as Miz Show but Show said he preferred Show Miz.

Backstage, Shawn Michaels desperately asked Teddy Long to trade for him so he could be put in the Smackdown Elimination Chamber. He came across pathetic, begging and pleading. Long said the Elimination Chamber was set. Michaels started yelling and grabbing Long. HHH then came in and tried to stop Michaels.

Michaels said his career is over and gave Long sweet chin music. Carlito was in the background for this entire angle laughing and Michaels’ kick sent both Long and Carlito falling to the floor. I assume Carlito was there to break Long’s fall on the floor. If that wasn’t the idea, this was dumb because Carlito took away from the seriousness of the angle. It worked well either way, though.

Gail Kim beat Jillian Hall. This match went no time at all. Hall got in a few moves and then Kim hit her finisher “eat defeat” for the pin. After the match, Maryse again said she wanted to have a good match with Gail Kim. She then said a whole lot of stuff of French while smiling. No good disingenuous French Canadians! She laughed and offered Kim a handshake. They announced Ted DiBiase for this year’s Hall of Fame.

Cody Rhodes beat Randy Orton. Orton slapped Rhodes and Rhodes gave Orton a dropkick. Orton hit some punches and Rhodes used a side Russian leg sweep. Rhodes missed a crossbody off the ropes and Orton was setting up for the RKO when Sheamus ran out for a distraction and Rhodes hit the roll of the dice for the pin. The announcers were selling that Rhodes might be in cahoots with Sheamus but Rhodes protected Orton with a chair. There was no heat for any of this.

This Legacy breakup angle isn’t working. The problem is that WWE in the name of unpredictability hasn’t invested the fans in anything. It’s the same problem to a lesser extent with the title matches for WrestleMania. Do we want Orton to turn face on Rhodes and DiBiase? Do we want Rhodes and DiBiase to turn face on Orton? Do we want them all to turn on each other?

It’s completely unclear and without the audience being conditioned to want something, it doesn’t care what happens. This angle ought to be so simple. One guy is being manipulated and cheated by the other two. It builds up for week after week until finally he fights back and the crowd goes crazy. But I guess that’s just too much like pro wrasslin’. Shades of grey. Unpredictability. Etc.

Backstage, Carl Edwards promised something special for next week that fans would never forget. What was this monumental announcement? Singles matches with Sheamus vs. Orton, DiBiase vs. Kingston and HHH vs. Cena. Edwards acted like he had just announced Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan vs. Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and Undertaker. The announcers then marked out like this was an unbelievable development. I was very confused.

John Cena was supposed to wrestle Ted DiBiase, but he just attacked him and applied the STF on the floor. DiBiase tapped but there was no match. An angry Cena called out Batista, but Batista didn’t show up. Cena said he thinks Vince McMahon was behind what Batista did last week so he called Vince out. Vince came out with security. Cena told Vince to come in the ring himself or he’d beat up all the security and then would be much angrier.

Vince McMahon admitted paying Batista to screw Bret Hart again. However, he said he had nothing to do with Batista attacking Cena. Cena wanted to know why and Vince suggested maybe it was because Cena eliminated Batista at the Rumble or maybe Batista just doesn’t like Cena.

Cena said that Vince is just about money. Cena said that he does it instead because he loves it. Cena then kept talking about doing it for money versus doing it for love. I like that Cena wasn’t smiling and joking, but this material was so corny. Cena managed to pull it off with his delivery anyway. Cena asked Vince if he would take the match. Vince said yes.

After another video package on what Vince did last week, Bret attacked Vince with punches. Vince ran off. He then said that he changed his mind and that there wouldn’t be a match because Bret deserved to be screwed. Bret then went after the WWE video equipment ala Montreal. He didn’t write WCW in the air, though. I’m not sure the audience understood the significance of this, but I thought it worked well and this was another strong close to the show.

Final Thoughts:

The Bret Hart-Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels-Undertaker build continues to be very good and there was some good wrestling and good supplementary angles on this show as well.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Academy Gets It Right

When the Oscars announced they would be expanding to 10 films, there was skepticism from a lot of people (including myself) that they would end up honoring second tier "prestige" films rather than the best popular films of the year (think last year including Revolutionary Road rather than Wall-E). Well, those fears turned out to be unfounded. The Oscars I think did a great job picking the field for Best Picture even in what I don't think was a particularly strong year for movies. They got the prestige films you would expect like Up in the Air, Precious and A Serious Man, but they also nailed my favorite films of the year from outside that group (Inglourious Basterds, Up and District 9). I think it's a field that will generate a lot more interest in the Oscars this year and I'll be interested to see what comes out on top.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Short Novel on Raw

Date: 02/01/10 from Nashville, TN.

The Big News: WrestleMania is approaching and WWE delivered one of its strongest and most memorable Raw efforts in a while.

Show Analysis:

The show started with a graphic for Jack Brisco. Edge then came out. He noted that he is not only back but in the WrestleMania main event. He said he was expected to be out longer but he watched the Slammy Awards and heard Chris Jericho thank him for getting injured so Jericho could team with Big Show. At that moment, Edge said the room went silent, not just because Dennis Miller bombed with another brutal joke but because Edge made a vow he wouldn’t miss Mania for a third time with an injury.

Edge said that he’s the ultimate opportunist and the Rumble was his opportunity to make it back to a Mania main event. Edge said that Jericho has a Slammy and his mug shot on TMZ while Edge has his ticket to Mania. I like little jabs like the TMZ one because it makes the feud feel more real. Edge asked rhetorically whether it would be smarter to go after the champion who is 17-0 or the champion who has never competed at Mania. He said he would do the smart thing and wait until after the Elimination Chamber to make a decision.

This was a good promo by Edge. I’m glad he’s back as I think he’s one of the best performers they have and he feels fresher than most of the main event mix. Interestingly, his promo was kind of heelish in that the opportunism stuff made him come across kind of like a coward. I’m not sure if the idea is to gradually shift his character or what.

Sheamus came out to join Edge in the ring. He said that a lot has changed since Edge left. He conceded that he hasn’t wrestled at Mania but added that he did something Edge couldn’t do at Mania, beat John Cena. Edge said he has made a career of beating Cena for the title. Sheamus said he will walk out of the Elimination Chamber as champion. He then told Edge to leave before he put him back on the shelf. Edge didn’t leave so Sheamus attacked him. Edge fought off Sheamus with punches of his own.

I absolutely hate the idea of putting up a title in an Elimination Chamber in February. The Elimination Chamber ought to be the way the other brand creates a challenger for WrestleMania, like they have done previously. That way both major Mania title shots are treated as huge deals that you have to go through a lot to earn. It builds up both the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber as really important and ties the Chamber PPV to the Rumble PPV. Here, the Elimination Chamber undermines the significance of the Rumble, because five different guys are getting a title shot and the chance to headline Mania just one month after the supposedly all important Rumble.

John Cena beat Cody Rhodes to qualify for the Elimination Chamber. Rhodes gained the advantage very early but Cena hit the Cena slam and five knuckle. He went for the FU but Rhodes fought out and hit a clothesline and moonsault. Cena responded with the FU out of nowhere for the pin. Backstage, William Shatner told Vince McMahon he couldn’t wait for Bret Hart to embarrass him.

Triple H beat Jack Swagger to qualify for the Elimination Chamber. Swagger hit a DDT, leg drops, and applied an abdominal stretch. He went for a Vader bomb but HHH got up his knees. HHH went for the pedigree but Swagger reversed and hit the Vader bomb for two. HHH then quickly hit the pedigree for the pin.

They did a skit with William Shatner doing spoken word versions of Shawn Michaels, John Cena, Rey Mysterio and Triple H’s themes. This didn’t really do it for me comically but I thought it was a clever idea that just didn’t click for whatever reason.

Backstage, Triple H met with Shawn Michaels. HHH was joking around with Michaels and trying to cheer him up but Michaels was just too depressed. HHH told Michaels to get into the Chamber and take the title.

Randy Orton beat Shawn Michaels. Michaels hit a swinging neck breaker but missed sweet chin music. Orton retaliated with a back breaker and dropkick. Michaels then came back with a top rope elbow but his sweet chin music attempt was countered into an RKO attempt. Michaels avoided that and hit an atomic drop and flying forearm. Michaels went for his usual nip up but Orton quickly rolled him up for the pin. I loved that finish given Michaels has been telegraphing that nip up spot for over a decade now.

After the match, Michaels was really down. His facials were phenomenal. He sold extreme frustration but at the same time was able to avoid coming across like he was throwing an unsympathetic hissy fit. That’s a tricky balance and Michaels pulled it off so perfectly. This really was great.

Backstage, Ted DiBiase told Randy Orton he was sorry about what happened at the Rumble. A seething Orton just left and DiBiase stood there looking rather angry in his own right. This segment made it pretty clear that these men now no longer trust or like each other and that the breakup is coming, probably at Elimination Chamber.

The Legacy breakup is going to be tricky. It has been booked of late so fans sympathize more with Orton, but I don’t see how they can elevate Rhodes or DiBiase out of the feud if Orton goes face. His face turn will be the central focus and they’ll put him strong over the other two. It will be so hard to book it in a way that Rhodes and DiBiase come out stronger than they went in. I know Orton is going to be a hot face sooner rather than later, but I really think they should find a way to go with the seeming original idea of a heel Rhodes and Orton against a face DiBiase. It’s just so much more conducive to creating a new star. Turn Orton later on.

Ted DiBiase beat Mark Henry in an Elimination Chamber qualifier. Henry clotheslined DiBiase to the floor but DiBiase took over there. DiBiase sent Henry’s arm into the post and the steps. Henry gained control with a clothesline and head butt but DiBiase went after the arm when Henry tried the world’s strongest slam. Henry avoided dream street but missed a corner avalanche and DiBiase hit a DDT with the arm for the pin.

WWE ran a video package on Jack Brisco. I thought it was well intentioned but really poor in giving credit to how successful his career was. It portrayed him primarily as a tag team star and spent more time on the Brisco Brothers Body Shop than his NWA World Title runs. There wasn’t a single mention of Dory Funk, Jr. It felt more like they were honoring the brother of a long time front office employee than one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.

Backstage, Maryse said she was looking forward to wrestling Gail Kim. Didn’t WWE just announce they were going to wrestle on this show? Maryse said she was embarrassed watching Mickie James and Michelle McCool on Smackdown and said they shouldn’t be acting that way. She said they are grown women and should act that way. Gail reluctantly said okay. Maryse then said something (I assume something bad) in French to Gail.

Miz and Big Show were backstage when they were confronted by the Straight Edge Society. CM Punk said they were there to get a title shot with DX. Miz and Show said they wanted the title shot. William Shatner came in and made a triple threat title match for next week on Raw. He then froze in a smiling position and kept saying “freeze the frame” to the wrestlers. They all looked at him like he was a complete idiot. This was amusing.

HHH backstage told Michaels that he was spiraling down. He told Shawn that this wasn’t the end of the world and that there are plenty of other guys to wrestle at Mania. “Not for me,” Shawn replied. They announced Carl Edwards from NASCAR will be the guest host next week. Yay, more NASCAR hosts! What, was Larry the Cable Guy unavailable? Oh shit, pretend I never said that.

Kofi Kingston beat Big Show via DQ to qualify for the Chamber. Kingston crotched Show and dropkicked him to the floor. Show came back with a spear. Miz was taunting Kingston at ringside but MVP came out and chased Miz to the back. Kingston kind of hit a top rope dropkick and used the boom drop but Show powered out of a pin attempt.

Show went for a choke slam but Kingston accidentally thumbed him in the eye. Show went for the KO punch but couldn’t see and hit the referee. Another referee came out and called for a DQ. This was such a crappy finish that you could hear boos even with the face winning.

I hate crap finishes in general. I think you can pretty much always book in a way to avoid them. For example here just book Kingston to beat someone else clean to qualify. It would give him more momentum going into the match and you wouldn’t have this sour tasting crap finish teaching you that you can’t trust a match to end with a halfway decent ending.

But even in the spectrum of crap finishes, this was particularly bad. It made no damn sense. Kingston uses an illegal tactic accidentally and as a direct result Show accidentally hits the referee. How is Show responsible for this turn of events if someone must be blamed? It was Kingston’s damn fault if we must apply a strict liability standard that’s contrary to how matches are usually done.

And why must someone be blamed if there was no malicious intent? I’ve seen 8,000 accidental ref bumps over the years with no DQ called. DQs are sometimes called when the referee thinks the wrestler did it intentionally, but here there’s no way the second referee could possibly have thought this was intentional. Thus the DQ felt absurd.

This is just elementary human logic and ethics. A six year old would understand why this was unjust to the heel and yet this referee is booked to be so monumentally idiotic. You don’t see guys in the NFL getting 15 yard misconducts for accidentally running into the official. You should at least be able to avoid crap finishes that don’t even make sense within the context of what you do every single week. Ugh.

The final segment of the show started with Jerry Lawler introducing William Shatner. Shatner “accidentally” fell on Lawler for comedy. Shatner then introduced Bret Hart. I don’t know what it was, but facially he looked more like the younger Bret Hart I remember. He then cut an awesome promo.

Bret said that he came back for the right reasons and to make peace. He noted that was naive. Bret said this time he wasn’t there for peace but to talk to Bret face to face. Vince McMahon then came out. He said that he regrets nothing he ever said or did to Bret. Bret said that was the first honest thing Vince has ever said. He called Vince the world’s greatest liar. He noted some of the lies Vince told including saying that he was like a father to Bret.

Bret said Vince couldn’t lace his father’s jock. Bret talked about when he was in a wheelchair following his stroke. Bret said he got out of the wheelchair and vowed he would never feel pathetic again. Then he came to WWE to make amends and got kicked in the guts and felt pathetic. Bret talked about working so hard for Vince and how Vince never appreciated it. He said that if he was chewing gum like Vince said, this gum had enough flavor left to kick Vince’s ass.

This promo by Bret Hart was exactly what was needed. It was passionate, well scripted and well delivered. It was thoroughly believable and touched on so many real issues between Bret and Vince. It was pretty much the ideal promo you would want Bret to cut on Vince. Bret really delivered here.

Vince responded by saying Bret is pathetic. He has no personality, and without personalities like Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret would have been a footnote. He added that Bret has no charisma and no command of the English language. He said that Bret was dressed like a hobo and deserved to be screwed. He then said that he wouldn’t induct Stu Hart into the Hall of Fame because Stu doesn’t deserve it.

The scripting of Vince’s promo was fantastic. I loved the knocks of Bret and the final jab at Stu was a great way to spur Bret into physical action. With that said, I didn’t care for Vince’s delivery at all. He seemed way too pleased with himself as a performer and delivered it in a hammy and goofy manner that undermined the material in my mind. He came across like a character rather than the real Vince from Montreal. People wanted to see Stone Cold kick the ass of the character Mr. McMahon. But people want to see Bret kick the ass of the real Vince McMahon and Vince making ridiculous faces undermined the reality Bret had interjected into his promo.

Bret pulled Vince’s coat over his head and attacked Vince with punches. He went for the sharpshooter but Batista came in and took Bret down with punches. He held Bret and Vince spit in Bret’s face. I wish it weren’t true, but there’s no getting around the fact that the physicality between Bret and Vince and Batista looked awful. But WWE now has basically everything they need for a huge Bret vs. Vince confrontation at Mania. They’ve got the great Bret promo and the image of Vince spitting in Bret’s face is a tremendous visual they can air a million times between now and then. Overall this segment was a big success.

Final Thoughts:

The main section of this report is particularly heavy with analysis of this show, but I wanted to close with one final point on what was generally a very strong build for WrestleMania.

There was a lot of good stuff on Raw, but I think the best stuff was Michaels’ performance in building a match with Undertaker. I criticize Raw a lot, because I think frequently it’s a very poorly written show. But this Michaels-Taker feud is being masterfully put together.

Thinking about a Michaels-Taker rematch, the logical thing to do to build the match would be to push Michaels really strong. Michaels wins a whole bunch of matches and is booked really strong so you think he just might be able to beat Taker. What WWE has done is pretty much the opposite. I never would have thought to do it that way, but it is working so much better than if they had just pushed Michaels strong.

By booking Michaels to fail repeatedly and sink into a state of depression and despair, it makes him such a sympathetic character. You see just how much he wants to beat Undertaker. He isn’t just saying it but showing it through his actions. It seems to mean more to him than Taker’s streak has ever meant to Taker. And the effect of that emotion is that by the time Mania comes, so many people are going to want to see Michaels accomplish this goal.

Watching this show, I found it hard to imagine Michaels failing at his goal to defeat Undertaker. It felt like Michaels would just leave forever and never show his face again if he couldn’t do it. That emotion has injected so much energy in this match and I think the Michaels vs. Taker Mania rematch is shaping up to be the best built WWE program since Batista vs. HHH.